Hurricane Matthew has wrecked parts of Haiti and now bears down on the U.S.
Big storms are ominous. They arrest our attention. They remind us how small and powerless we are.
In the Bible the storm is a symbol of many different things.
Non-destructive wind is an apt picture of the presence of God because God is powerful, yet unseen (John 3:8; 4:24). When God’s Spirit came at Pentecost the accompanying sign was the sound of “a mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2:2).
The peoples surrounding the Israelites in the Old Testament typically worshipped storm gods. These fertility religions tried to coax rain out of the local god. In contrast, the Israelites believed God to be the personal sovereign over all things.
One day God revealed himself to Elijah the prophet in an unusual way:
“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (1 Kings 19:11-13).
God is not a storm, but storms do remind us that there are forces so much stronger than us. A strong storm is a reminder that we need a God who is stronger than the storm:
“The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the LORD on high is mighty” (Psalm 93:3-4).
And when we see someone rescued from a storm, it reminds us of the salvation of God:
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me” (Psalm 18:16-17).
Certainly the most memorable storm in the Bible was the day Jesus and his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee:
“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves,’Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ (Mark 4:37-41)